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Category Archives: Discipleship

Uphill and Down

(a sermon for February 11, 2018, the Last Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Mark 9:2-9)

It was a powerful moment; that much is for certain, one that up to that point had to have been the most profound experience of their entire lives.

And as Peter, James and John stood up there on the mountain with Jesus, they were stunned at what they were seeing; and yet at the same time fascinated, exhilarated and warmed to their very souls.  This was no less than glory itself; and as the three of them stood there amidst the brilliant and shimmering light of their teacher Jesus transfigured before them, watching him “in deep conversation” (The Message) with Elijah the prophet and with Moses (!), who could blame Peter for his excitement and for blurting out the very first thing that came into his head?  Mark’s account of this story tells us that Peter responded to all this by saying, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here,” but he might just as well have said, “Is this great or what?!”    Because he wanted to hold on to this experience forever! Let’s build three dwellings, three tents, he says, “one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah,” and then we can just stay right here and never have to leave!

Like I said, it was a powerful moment; and it’s all punctuated by a voice from heaven proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  and you can understand why they’d want to stay atop that mountain for as long as possible!

Of course, that doesn’t happen; for soon the vision fades, the glory dissipates, and once again it’s just the three of them there with Jesus.  And now it’s time to come down from the mountain and to get back to the intense daily realities of following Jesus: the long walks going from town to town; the throngs of people clamoring at Jesus’ feet, the cries of people looking for healing and teaching and love; it was so much more than anything they’d ever imagined back on that morning mending nets on the shore of the Galilean lake.  But this was the life they’d chosen (or, perhaps more accurately, the life they’d been chosen for), and it would go on now just as it had before; except that because of this glimpse of glory they’d received, everything was somehow different.  They were different.

One of the great “little pleasures” of ministry for me has always been those all too rare occasions when I happen to run into a couple at whose wedding I officiated a few months or even years before.  After all, the nature of pastoral ministry, to say nothing of the nature of life itself, is such that you sometimes just lose track of these couples, so it’s great to get caught up on what’s happened to them since that fateful day I got to join them in holy matrimony!  And there’s always stories to tell; but I always have to laugh that almost inevitably when I ask how they’re doing, one or the other will always answer, “Oh, we’re ‘old marrieds’ now!”

“Old marrieds!”  Now there’s a label for you!  It sounds kind of like “used car,” or “factory seconds,” doesn’t it?  I wonder, what does that even mean; “old marrieds?”  Certainly, it can’t mean that the experience of marriage has caused them to age pre-maturely (or at least I hope not!), and I do hope that it’s not an indication that the excitement and passion has gone out of their relationship!  No, I suspect that when they use the term “old marrieds” they’re telling me that over time and experience their marriage has become, well, familiar.

You know what I’m saying; now that the wedding and honeymoon is behind them, they’ve settled into this new daily routine of life that more than likely includes home, work, family… the whole thing.  Moreover, they’ve gotten used to each other’s little quirks of personality; maybe they’ve even set out to “adjust” a few of those qualities, in the other if not themselves!  They’ve probably already had times that they’ve grown closer together and other days they’ve felt like they’re drifting apart; and I’ve no doubt they faced more than a few challenges along the way.  And they’ve probably also come to realize, as I like to say to couples about to get married, that that stuff about “for better or worse, for richer or poorer” ain’t just boilerplate; it’s the ebb and flow of real life that enters into every marriage!

You see, the interesting thing about all of this is that no matter how glorious or memorable the wedding, eventually that day of celebration passes into memory, and life goes on pretty much as it did before; except that now, because of the marriage that’s been forged on that wonderful day – because of vows taken and commitments made – all of life and living is forever changed; and that’s because they’ve changed!

Well, I think that the message of the gospel this morning is that likewise, even as we carry the mantle of Christian discipleship life does indeed go on; and rest assured, friends, that combination of faith and life-as-we-know-it-and-actually-live-it is not always – if ever (!) – going to be easy.  But you see, it’s how we incorporate the glory of what it is we believe into the minutiae of daily life that gives that life meaning, purpose and joy!

The fact is, whereas we weren’t there on the mountain with Peter, James and John, we know all about mountain-top experiences, don’t we; those incredible moments of perfect clarity and insight that occasionally come along in our lives in which we are made profoundly aware of God’s presence and love.  For some of us, that experience came in times of great joy and elation: in the birth of our children; in moments of sudden inspiration and creativity; or when we discover for the first time a fellowship with the divine in the singing of a hymn or a saying of a prayer.  Or that experience may have come right in the midst of pain and strife: in the realization that your prayer for strength and healing was answered; in an inner peace that passes all understanding but somehow brought you through what you never thought you could endure.  These are moments that are both divine in their nature and utterly transformative; truly, this is, in every spiritual sense of the word, transfiguration.  It’s what it means to be up on life’s mountaintop when suddenly, without warning, God cracks open the crust that forms over daily life and suddenly we see, hear and feel God’s awesome presence.  And when that happens, it’s a truly glorious thing.

But the thing about mountaintop experiences is that they’re not meant to last forever.  It may indeed be glorious, but sooner or later the time is going to come when you have to walk down the hill and return to the valley from which you came.  David Lose writes that one of the most significant parts of the Transfiguration story is that “after all of what happened on the mountaintop… Jesus came back down.  Down to where the rest of the disciples are, down to where we are, down to the challenges of life ‘here below,’ down to the problems and discomforts and discouragements that are part and parcel of our life in this world.”

And that’s where we are called to go as well: as Jesus makes clear again and again in the gospels, true discipleship is not as much in what happens atop the mountain as in what we encounter down in the valley!  The way of Christ is the way of the cross – it’s no mistake, by the way, that on the Christian calendar, Transfiguration Sunday happens just before the beginning of Lent and our shared journey to that cross – and when we walk faithfully the way of the cross there will be, as we confess in our statement of faith, a cost as well as a joy in that discipleship.  But the thing is;  as disciples we do walk downhill and we face whatever comes; but not so much because the journey has changed, but rather because we have changed for the journey!

I’ve always loved that passage from 1 Kings we shared today; a beautiful and evocative piece in which God’s reassuring voice is heard not in the noise of wind, earthquake or fire, but rather in the “sound of sheer silence” that follows.  That’s a sermon in and of itself (!), but even given that, for me what’s most telling about this story is what brought Elijah to the cave in the first place; for you see, it was not faith as much as it was despair, and Elijah’s deep desire in that moment to quit being a prophet!  And you can understand why: nothing was working out right; the Israelites had forsaken God’s covenant, they’d torn down the altars of worship and now they were seeking to kill all prophets; including and especially Elijah himself!  So Elijah has fled to this cave, not only in fear for his life but also feeling utterly abandoned by God; he’s disillusioned and angry, and he cries out to God in despair, and as a great storm rages both outside and from within, Elijah waits for the Lord to answer… which God does… in the silence.

But did you notice that when God eventually does speak to Elijah, what he tells Elijah to do?  God tells Elijah… to go!  Whereas by our thinking the easiest and safest thing to do would have been for Elijah to stay holed up in that cave and safe from danger, God says, “Go!”  Get out of the cave, Elijah, and go back to the wilderness; go back and anoint Hazael as King over Aram; go down from this mountain and then wait to follow my lead.

While Elijah is looking at the failure of the moment, you see, God is looking at the big picture and the promise of a certain future that would transcend the success or even the failure of Elijah’s efforts.  God’s plan will unfold as God intends; and life within that plan will go on as before. So what matters most now is whether or not Elijah will choose to stay true to the task to which he is called; and if he’ll remember, even in the midst of risk and strife, that incredible moment of transformation and glory that led him to answer God’s call.  The question is whether or not Elijah will walk down the hill with the same kind of faith and determination with which he walked up!

Each one of us here is called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but the truth is that Christ is Lord not only of the bright mountaintops of our lives, but also is the Lord of the shadowed valleys of living. If we are to follow Jesus where he goes, the pathway will not only wind through green pastures, but also through the briars and what my father used to call the “puckerbrush.”  If we’re to model ourselves after him, we’ll surely come to times of triumph, celebration and great certainty along the journey, but we’ll also come to crossroads of grief and despair in which we’ll find ourselves struggling to find the right answers.  And if we are to be true to him, we’ll reach out with love to others in the same place.

As Christians, ours is a day to day journey of faith that goes uphill and down; and as we seek to move forward in this life with some sense of God’s will for ourselves, our neighbor and our world, we do so never entirely sure of what’s beyond the next horizon.  But whatever happens, one thing is always for certain:  in our walk, wherever it leads, we have been the recipients of glory.  The movement of God’s own Spirit in our lives and faith has offered us a glimpse of how God’s own realm will be.  Truly, we are people of a promise that transcends any of the setbacks and the stumbling and the despairing we face as we go along the journey.  The only question is whether we’ll be true to that promise, whether we’ll take the risk to put one foot in front of the other and walk down the hill and into the valley.

Before long, our service of worship will be done for today, another Sunday will have passed and tomorrow it’ll be… Monday.   Soon enough – maybe even before the day is through – we’ll be back to life as usual – going back to work, buying groceries and doing the laundry – and the experience of our prayers and songs in this hour will be but a fading memory; at least until next week when we do it all again!  Truth is, life will go on pretty much the way it did before today; and yet, it’ll be different – it can’t help but be different – because by the gentle, graceful and utterly glorious touch of God, we’re different.

Beloved, in God’s purpose and plan, this week contains a wealth of possibilities for faith, service and love; but you see, we’ll only know what God can do in our lives if we are bold enough and trusting enough to let God’s glory us downhill and into the valley of life and faith.

Just go, God says to us, just keep walking; and always remember that you’ll never be along

Thanks be to God who in Jesus Christ walks with us on the journey.

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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A Promise for the Fussing and Bothered

(a sermon for November 19, 2017, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost and Thanksgiving Sunday, based on Joel 2:12-17 and Matthew 6:25-34)

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life…”

Don’t you just love that verse?  I mean, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that so often Holy Scripture has a way of shaking us out of our complacency and challenging what we’ve always held to be true in this life; there are times that biblical truth can be downright unsettling!  But not this time; here we have a simple and powerful affirmation from the mouth of Jesus himself: a sure and certain reminder that we need not ever be concerned about the stuff of life and living, because God will provide all that we need!  Whether it’s about what we’ll eat or drink, or our bodies, or our clothing; whatever it is for you, Jesus says, don’t worry, because it’s all good!

Like I said before, I love this verse; it speaks to the bounty of God’s blessing upon all of our lives, and what better time to lift that up than right now as we draw near to our celebration of Thanksgiving Day. There’s a lot of comfort to be found in Jesus’ words; so why is it that even as I hear them today, inside I’m thinking, “Are you kidding?  How am I not supposed to worry?”

The fact is, we all have more than enough to worry about, don’t we; worries attend us like bees to honey!  There are worries at home and about our loved ones; there are worries at work; these days we have worries about our safety and about the state of the world, worries that are exacerbated just about every time we turn on the news!  And then there’s all the rest of those unnamed anxieties that never seem to leave our thoughts.  Never mind that truism that states that 40% of the things we worry about never happen, another 30% have to do with things we can’t change anyway, and another 12% have to do with needless fears (I really can’t speak for the math there, but you know what I’m saying!); it just seems as though everywhere we turn in this life, we discover yet another thing to worry about!  It ends up being like the old story of one man who said to another, “You know, I’m so worried that if anything happens to me today, it will be two weeks before I can worry about it!”

So in the face of all of that, as wonderful and as inviting as it sounds for Jesus to say to you and to me, “Therefore, don’t worry about your life,” well, that just seems out of step with the kind of lives we lead in this modern age, to say nothing of the anxiety-ridden society of which we’re a part!  With all due respect, simply to go through life singing “Hakuna Matata” (which, if you happen to be familiar with the Disney musical “The Lion King,” is that “problem-free philosophy” that means “no worries, for the rest of your days!”) basically means you don’t understand the situation!  Bottom line is that there are problems in this world, and in our lives; so there’s plenty of things that give us concern… and we worry!

So all that said, what are we to do with Jesus’ admonition not to worry?  Where’s the truth in that word of comfort? Well, I would suggest to you this morning that our answer to that question comes in putting Jesus’ words in their proper context; because, in truth, I don’t think that Jesus is advocating for a “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle, any more than he would want us to spend all of our days whistling, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!”  There’s more to life than this; and frankly more to following Jesus than this! In fact, if you’re truly paying attention to the whole of Jesus’ teachings you begin to realize that the ability, the grace, not to worry actually comes in everything that Jesus has said before!  It’s all right there in one word that began our text for this morning; it’s a word – an adverb – so small and seemingly inconsequential that I’m guessing that most of us didn’t even notice it: “Therefore…” 

…as in, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life…”

Remember, you see, that this reading from Matthew’s gospel comes toward the end of his account of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” that very familiar series of verses in which our Savior deals with some of the central and arguably heavier issues of walking in faith: the realities of being salt of the earth and light of the world, and what it means to obey and fulfill the laws of God; about the dicier aspects of dealing with anger, and forgiveness, and love.  Interestingly enough, in the verse just prior to what we read this morning there’s even a rather unsettling teaching about… guess what?  Money!  “No one can serve two masters,” says Jesus, “…you cannot serve God and wealth.” (6:24)  This sermon of Jesus, taken as a whole, ends up as no less than a summation of what God expects from his people; and by any standard, it’s a lot!  But here’s the thing; it’s right after all of this that Jesus looks to the crowds gathered around him and says to them, and to us, “Therefore… don’t worry about your life.”  In other words, quoting the Rev. Neil Chappell here, what’s happened is that “Jesus presents us with this long list of things to do, to follow, to remember and [of course] we worry whether we’re up to challenge.”  And this is when Jesus tells us, don’t worry!

To put a finer point on this, I found it particularly interesting this week how Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates this passage.  To be clear, this is a paraphrase and not a strict translation; but there’s something about Peterson’s interpretation of this text that makes clear sense about this admonition against worrying.  “If you decide for God,” it says, “living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes, or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion… [likewise] has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?”  To put this still another way, in the end it’s not that we don’t worry because God provides; it that because God provides, we don’t worry!

What Jesus reminds here is that when we are in relationship with God, and when God’s presence and guidance and love is at the center of everything we face in this life, we have entered what David Lose refers to as “the realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment,” a place – which Jesus calls the “Kingdom of God,” by the way – where “not worrying actually becomes an option!”  Consider the birds of the air, or the grass of the field; “are you not of more value than they?”  God takes care of them, and so God will take care of you; even you who worries about anything and everything!  To quote The Message one more time, “People who don’t know God or the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. [So] steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.  Don’t worry about missing out.  You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Don’t worry… be happy (Okay, I couldn’t resist!), for if you “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”

You know, biblically and historically speaking, we really don’t know all that much about the prophet Joel; from whose book our Old Testament reading this morning is drawn. We know that he is named as one of the minor prophets, and that his words possibly date back to the eighth century before the Christian era; beyond that, we know very little… except that Joel was a spokesperson for God in a harrowing time, in the aftermath of a plague of locusts that left the land (and by extension, its people) utterly destroyed.  So the setting of the Book of Joel is of one of great calamity, followed by despair and all the deep anxieties that would most certainly come from that.  And yet, what does Joel say in the face of such worries?  “Do not fear… be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!”

It’s a beautiful and amazing passage; we read of how God will care for the land and the animals; how God will bring early and abundant rain “for [their] vindication,” and make the threshing floors once again full with the grain of the harvest.  “I will repay you,” says the Lord, “for the years that the swarming locust has eaten… you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.”  And perhaps most interesting of all here is that rather than calling the people to remorse or even to repentance, God calls them… to trust in his promise of abundance and to give thanks: “Praise the name of the Lord your God,” he says, “who has dealt wondrously with you.”

This is the beginning of faith, dear friends, and it is the very life to which Jesus calls you and me even now: one of true abundance that can only come from God.  Granted, to trust in that kind of promise is a hard thing for us in these times; especially given all the many kinds of scarcity and fear in this world that seek to cause us so much worry.  But if we focus on that which is good – acknowledging what God has done and continues to do in this world and in our lives, and living out that abundance – we may well find ourselves ready to heed Jesus’ call to relax, to breathe and to simply trust in God’s everlasting providence.

Well, in just a few days now, most of us will be gathered with some combination of family or friends to engage in that yearly, time-honored ritual of feasting we call Thanksgiving.  And in amidst the copious servings of turkey, mashed potato and pumpkin pie I trust that prayers will be said offering up thanks for the many blessings we’ve known in the past year: blessings of life and health and food; of love received and given; of the joys that were embraced and the sorrows that were somehow successfully endured.  Wherever we are and whoever we’re with this coming Thursday, we’ll be expressing praise and gratitude to the God “from whom all blessings flow.” And with humility and grace we’ll simply say, “Thank you.”

And so it should be… but might I suggest another prayer as well? It seems to me that this year we’d all do well to pray that in the year to come the Lord might deliver us from fussing… from allowing ourselves to become bothered by all those all-consuming and ultimately debilitating worries that keep us from wholly embracing the abundance of blessings that God has to offer us. I’m reminded here of something the late Henri Nouwen used to say about what it means to truly pray.  He used the image of a clenched fist, and explained that if we, after the manner of that closed hand, hold on tightly to those “clammy coins” we insist on keeping – things like hate and bitterness, disappointment and even worry – then you’re never going to be able to open your hand to receive all of the love the Lord wants to give you; to receive, you see, first you have to let go.

And so it is with all the worries that keep us from giving our full attention to what our Lord has to give us in the here and now, and also in the days to come; as the old saying goes, we simply need to “let go, and let God!”  Yes, there is true abundance in God, beloved; therefore, let us not be worried, but instead set ourselves to striving first for the kingdom of God… for in doing so, “all these things will be given to you as well.”

Happy Thanksgiving, my dear, dear friends, and may God continue to bless you and yours.

And may our thanks ever and always be unto God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Discipleship, Jesus, Life, Old Testament, Sermon, Thanksgiving

 

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Ready at the Right Time

(a sermon for November 12, 2017, the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, based on Matthew 25:1-13)

I would suspect that most, if not all of us in this room can vouch for this particular undeniable truth of life: that there are consequences for being unprepared!

I learned this truth back in school; although admittedly it took me quite a while!  After all, you can’t not read the assigned chapters in “Moby Dick” and expect to come even close to correctly answering the teacher’s questions about Captain Ahab the next day in class; and they’re called “pop quizzes” for a reason, and so not doing your homework is almost certainly a recipe for academic disaster!

And then there were the great many “all-nighters” I pulled in college, at least until eventually I discovered that I could not wait to study for exams or write my term papers at the last minute and expect to do well.  I remember one paper in particular; it was one of the very first I ever wrote for a seminary class, in fact. All these years later, I’m still not sure it was because of the work load from all my other courses or if it were just pure procrastination on my part, but I do remember that as I cranked out the final pages of that paper – due the very next day – that new day was actually dawning (!); and also that I was convinced that what I had written was brilliant, cutting edge theology!

But a few days later, when the professor invited me to his office and graciously allowed me the chance for a rewrite (!), I realized that what I’d passed in what was basically a 20 page-long run-on sentence, pretty much lacking any of the insights that should have come from a semester’s worth of study (the professor was kind, however: “Well, Michael,” he said, “this paper does have a great deal of vitality!”  Probably more like the effects of a great deal of caffeine, but I was grateful nonetheless).

In retrospect, I could never have hoped to have been ready with that paper at the last minute, any more than I could ever do well on a final exam without first having studied for that exam!  And therein lies the undeniable truth:  that in whatever opportunity, or challenge, or crisis comes our way, most often we cannot hope to have the tools, or the skills, or, for that matter, the character to face what’s coming unless that skill or that part of our character has been previously and sufficiently nurtured over time and with concerted effort.  In the end, you see, preparedness is not about what is done at the last minute, but everything else that’s been done in anticipation of that last minute.

Our gospel reading for this morning tells us that this is especially true for that which is the most important thing of all: the coming of God’s Kingdom into the world.  Jesus actually speaks a fair amount about this in Matthew’s gospel; the gist of the message being, “you… must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (24:44) But in order to illustrate the consequences for not being ready, Jesus goes on to tell the story of ten bridesmaids waiting with lamps burning for the arrival of the bridegroom and the beginning of a wedding feast.

It would have been a familiar scenario for those of Jesus’ time: it was customary in those days for a groom to escort his bride from her father’s house to his own home, followed by a grand procession of attendants, guests, musicians and townspeople.  Once they arrived – and sometimes this arrival would happen well into the evening, especially if the groom was bringing his bride from a neighboring village – they’d be met there by the bridesmaids waiting outside his door, the light of their lamps glowing in the night.  And then together the whole group would then go inside, so that the wedding celebration could start in earnest.  It was also a custom – and this is important – that once everyone had entered and the festivities had begun, the doors would be locked and no one admitted late.

So here, according to Jesus, according to proper wedding tradition and etiquette are these ten bridesmaids; except that Jesus also makes a point of telling us that “five of them were foolish, and five were wise.”  It’s an interesting distinction, because just like members of a wedding party today, they were probably identical in appearance and all dressed to the nines; they were certainly all friends and family of the bride; and each one of them had been invited to be there and equally desirous of celebrating this marriage!  And if we’re looking for a lack of etiquette, it wasn’t the fact that they fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom, who we’re told was delayed in his arrival; because all ten of them did that!

No, the only difference, the only thing that sets apart the foolish from the wise, turns out to be a lack of preparedness; specifically, five of the ten who did not bring along an extra flask of oil, and thus did not have enough fuel to keep their lamps burning through the night.  Asking the other bridesmaids to share their oil was no solution, since then none of them would have had enough fuel; so the only solution, they reasoned at this last minute, was to go out and buy some extra, and so off they went… and wouldn’t you know it; while they’re gone the wedding party arrives, the party begins, the doors are locked and those five bridesmaids miss it all.  And the story ends rather harshly, with the groom refusing to even recognize them, much less let them come to the reception.  But, suggests Jesus, sad as it is, it was the bridesmaids’ own fault because they weren’t ready when that crucial moment came; they were unprepared for the bridegroom’s coming!

And to this Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

It turns out that this parable of Jesus is all about spiritual readiness; about the faith necessary for this and every day until God’s kingdom comes in its fullness. We’re told by biblical scholars that this particular parable was Jesus’ way of saying (and by extension, Matthew’s reminder to the early church) that the kingdom might not come immediately but it will come; so we’d best be attentively and actively waiting on it.  Jesus is telling you and me that we need to be prepared; ready for the time that is the right time.  Because it’s important to note that while those five “foolish bridesmaids” (and understand, by the way, that they could have just as easily been five foolish groomsmen; this is not gender related at all!); that this “foolish five,” shall we say, may well have had good intentions to keep their lamps well-lit, the bottom line is that they ran out of time.

There are things in life that cannot be endlessly deferred; there are opportunities that come to us that do not come again.  There are moments in this life for decision, for commitment, for pronouncing the verdict of our very lives; and what the gospel tells us today is that there will be that moment, in the eloquent words of Will Willimon, “when God arrives on tiptoes, or comes rushing in, or surprises us with light, or flirts, or speaks.”  We’d better be watching for it, and we’d better be ready.

I recognize, of course, that when we’re here in worship or engaged in some faith-related activity, or perhaps about now when we approach the “holy seasons” of advent and Christmas, and later on with Lent and Easter; perhaps then our senses are more attuned to this kind of spiritual readiness. However, if we’re being honest, that kind of expectant spirit is hard for us to sustain over time, when the need is for that spirit to imbue all the other experiences on all the other days of our lives!  I love what M. Eugene Boring of Bright Divinity School has written about this; he says that “living the life of the kingdom” can be done relatively easily for the short term. But “when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise… being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after hostile year; being merciful for an evening can be a pleasant experience, but being merciful for a lifetime requires [true] spiritual preparedness.”

My point is that it is not easy to live the Christian life day in and day out; it is rarely a smooth road to travel when our own life’s journey is defined by our walk with Jesus Christ; when we’re imitating Christ and keeping the values of Christ as our own until Christ himself returns.  But it is crucial that we stay on that journey, and always be about this work of spiritual readiness, lest the kingdom of God comes and we be found asleep and unprepared.  Simply put, we need “oil in our lamps to keep them burning, burning, burning,” (!) the kind of spiritual fuel that gives light and direction to the standards of devotion and behavior we apply to our day to day lives; to the ways we nurture relationships with one another; in how we make real in our own lives the prayers we pray for peace, for justice and an end to hatred and all manner of abuse. And friends, make no mistake; ours is a lamp that needs to burn, and brightly; for in a time and place when there’s so much to be done for the sake of God’s kingdom, we would not want to be floundering in the darkness!  We need to be ready… and now is the right time. 

I’ve always loved the writings of Bill Bryson; as you might know he’s a mid-westerner who immigrated to England for a good many years and then returned to live with his family here in New Hampshire (up near Hanover, I believe), and from that perspective he writes these marvelous essays about American life and our history.  In his book Made in America, Bryson speaks rather frankly about the Pilgrims of the first Thanksgiving, saying that as much as we revere them, they were basically ill-suited for a life in the New England wilderness!

Consider how they packed for the trip:  historical records tell us they found room on the Mayflower for “sundials and candle snuffers, a drum and a trumpet, even a complete history of the country of Turkey.  One man named William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots.  Yet the Pilgrims failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line.”  With the uncertain exception of Miles Standish (who, by the way, was not a Pilgrim per se but something of a soldier of fortune who got hired on for security purpose!), probably very few of these pilgrims had ever even tried to hunt a wild animal! Bryson writes that these pilgrims “were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possible way:  by dying in droves.”  In fact, by the time spring arrived, only about 54 of them (nearly half of them children) remained; but these were the survivors who turned Plymouth into a self-sustaining colony and the ones who hosted the first Thanksgiving.

Think of that as a parable, friends; for while we may never find ourselves in the dire straits of our Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers, we do know what it is to be unprepared for what life thrusts upon us.  We also tend to carry unnecessary baggage through our lives and then find ourselves lacking that which we really need to survive the storms of tough times and unforeseen crises.  Better in the here and now to be preparing ourselves spiritually for all that awaits us; looking to Jesus for the skills and the grace we need to embody God’s love, his forgiveness, his joy and hope in how we live and in how we relate to one another.

Better to be ready… at the right time!

For our Lord makes it clear, beloved; this… this time and place… is not all there is or will be.  We are, in fact, on the verge of a moment in which this transient life we lead will be transformed into a kingdom of feasting and celebration.  It’s coming; so let us keep awake – let’s pay attention and get ready – for that time soon, and very soon, when the bridegroom arrives… for what a celebration that will be!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2017 in Discipleship, Jesus, Life, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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